By: Sheryl Brooks, R.N., N.C.M.P.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Spread the word, because friends help friends prevent breast cancer!
Get to know how your breasts look and feel so you can report any new lumps or skin changes to your doctor. Reduce your exposure to radiation by having medical imaging only when absolutely necessary, based on your own personal and family medical history. Discuss with your doctor which mammogram or screening methods would provide the safest and most accurate results for you.
Here are some of the risk factors that just are what they are and you can’t change them:
- Being a woman. Breast cancer is about 100 times more common among women than men.
- Age is the strongest risk factor for breast cancer. The older we get, the higher the risk. About two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 or older.
- Your genes. According to the American Cancer Society, most (over 85%) women who get breast cancer don’t have a family history of this disease. But, having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer doubles a woman's risk. About 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. There are several inherited gene mutations that can lead to breast cancer, but the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are most common.
- Dense breast tissue. Breasts are made up of fatty, glandular and connective tissue. Breasts with more glandular and connective tissue and less fatty tissue are said to have dense breasts. Mammograms of dense breasts can be less accurate.
Other risk factors are modifiable. Here are some important ones that you can lower with lifestyle changes:
- Drinking alcohol. Breast cancer risk increases with the amount consumed. Research suggests that it is the ethanol that increases the risk, and the ethanol in one serving of alcohol is the same in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. women who consume 1 alcoholic drink a day have a small risk increase compared to nondrinkers, while those who have 2 to 5 drinks a day have about 1½ times the risk.
- Being overweight or obese. The risk appears to be increased for women who gained weight as an adult, especially after menopause.
- Fat tissue after menopause can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen levels in an unhealthy way. Also, overweight women tend to have higher blood insulin levels, which have been linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.
- Inactivity. In The Women's Health Initiative study, as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman's risk by 18%. Other research has shown a link between 4 to 7 hours per week of regular, moderate or intense exercise and a lower risk of breast cancer.
- Research shows that getting the nutrients you need from a variety of foods, especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can create the energy your body needs, strengthen your immune system, and help keep your risk for breast and other cancers and chronic disease as low as possible.
I hope you will make breast care a part of your healthy aging plan by doing all you can to lower your risk for breast cancer, support breast cancer research whenever possible, and get more information at www.cancer.org and www.breastcancer.org.